Life, love and loss of Kilkenny women in 1922

‘Mama Ruth’ was written by Elizabeth Ruth and performed by Muireann Ryan

By: Ger Cody

Photos: Freddie Greenall

I can’t say I knew Frank McEvoy very well. Whenever we met on the street, we would stop and chat and invariably he would enquire about the arts scene.

According to a report in The Irish Times in 2012, the paper described Frank’s death at the age of 86 as ‘bringing to an end an important era of Kilkenny’s literary history.’

It was in the early ‘90’s when I discovered what an absolute fount of knowledge Frank was regarding Kilkenny, its people and its history.

I visited his bookshop, Hebron Books, on Kilkenny’s High Street in search of a particular book and Frank engaged me in conversation on the subject.

It was then I realised not only the wealth of knowledge the man had, but the absolute love and passion he had for the history of Kilkenny city and county.

He planted a fantastic literary seed in Kilkenny, and his written work has proved to be a great source of information for those interested.

Thankfully, many people and organisations continue to promote the history of Kilkenny and one doesn’t need to go any further than the Kilkenny Archaeological Society to experience the quality of research that is available.

And so, it was quite a pleasant experience to attend ‘The Untold Tales of Freedom’ production at Rothe House.

The project was a co-production between Radical Acts and Heritage Tales and the package told the stories of women in Kilkenny in 1922.

It was obvious from the performance that many hours of research had gone into the planning, rehearsal and production.

The sixty minute show focussed on individual women and the stories they had to tell.

It gave a wonderful insight into family life of Ireland of 1922, the political and economic climate, with a lot of attention on the Civil War and its fall out.

It painted a picture of how families were divided and how much hardship and pain was created.

Seven different women told stories of seven different families. Much of the information was garnered from tales handed down from family members, while more were created from local authors who placed themselves in the hearts and minds of the women of the time.

Some stories told of how women took on the huge responsibility of the family life; how the smallest gift, such as a present of a cup, was so appreciated; how for some, love conquered all, while others had their hearts broken.

It portrayed a time in Ireland, for some at least, when the man made the decisions and when the woman kept a closed mouth.

It showed above all else, how resilient women were and indeed needed to be.

Credit must be given to each performer who embraced their characters, and one could sense all the emotions on show.

Although seated in the magnificent setting of Rothe House, one felt like each actor transported you back to their particular dwelling.

Linking the show together was Jim Carroll, a member of the Barn Owl Players who carried off this role with his usual professionalism.

The project was part of the Kilkenny County Council ‘Decade of Centenaries’ programme and was devised and directed by Ita Morrissey with production by Cara O’Doherty of Heritage Tales.

Actors taking part included, Mags Whitely, Aoibheann Holden, Rosey Hayes, Bernie Brennan, Helena Duggan, Nicola Ryan and Muireann Ryan.

Writers included, Cara O’Doherty, Róisín Sheehy, Rosey Hayes, Bernie Brennan, Helena Duggan and Elizabeth Ruth.

The project worked on two counts: it showed off some wonderful local talent, while at the same time giving us a taste of our local history.

At the end of the performance it was quite evident that the audience delighted in the work.

The words of poet Donna Ashworth came to mind and in particular her poem ‘When God Created Woman’ which relates a conversation between an angel and God on the creation of women.

The last verse reads:

“Lord, you are a genius. You thought of everything.
A woman is indeed marvellous!”
The Lord said “Indeed she is.
She has the strength that amazes man.
She can handle trouble and carry heavy burdens.
She holds happiness, love and opinions.
She smiles when she feels like screaming.
She sings when she feels like crying.
Cries when happy and laughs when afraid.
She fights for what she believes in.
Her love is unconditional.
Her heart is broken when a next-of-kin or friend dies but she finds strength to get on with life.”
The angel asked, “So she is a perfect being?”
The Lord replies, “No. She has just one drawback. She often forgets what she is worth.”

I can only imagine that Frank McEvoy would have given his seal of approval.


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